Dinefwr Castle, Llandeilo, Wales
Hike in Brecon Beacons National Park
Green Man Festival, Wales
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are
— Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
It was a crazy two weeks WWOOFing at Penpont, a rural estate in Wales. Late nights, endless alcohol, intense gardening, two different festivals, and a 40-person birthday party. All in two weeks time. But what a two weeks it was.
Built in 1666, Penpont has been in the same family for all that time (Vina’s). The estate is 2,000 acres, consisting of the main house and many collected buildings, including a converted stable now used as a reception area, a organic produce shop, a woodworking shop, and at least one cottage (there were also cottages on the estate that were much further from the house). The family rents out a separate-but-attached part of the main house as a holiday flat. There is a also a camping ground, a hedge maze, tennis courts, and a large walled garden where I worked every weekday. To say that my jaw dropped while walking around this place (particularly inside the house, which was gorgeous) would be an understatement. Yet I was surprised how easily I became accustomed to how huge and stately it was. Towards the end I was even irreverently sliding along the smooth wooden floors in my socks. In some ways it became a house like any other to me, even though it was the farthest thing from that.
One of things that struck me the most about my time at the Penpont was the community there. Every weekday morning we would have a tea break at 10:30 and the staff would gather, often with the family, to have tea and biscuits. It was inclusive in a way that I did not expect. Most of the staff lived rent-free in cottages on the estate provided by the family. Their lives were all so inextricably entwined, I marveled at it. And it all revolved around Vina and Gavin.
Luckily I wasn’t working alone in the garden. Vina and Gav employed a full-time gardener, Pete, who I got along with very well. He was a quiet man with the appearance of timidity, but only the appearance. I also recognized in him a fellow introvert, a person also less certain of their own desire to be sociable. Working with him in companionable silence while in the garden was contenting. It helped that the garden was beautiful; well laid-out and large with a greenhouse and several polytunnels. They grew everything from apples, figs, kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, peas, french beans, broad beans, tomatoes (SO GOOD), onions, shallots, leeks, chard, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini, black currants, raspberries, and various herbs, to flowers that Vina cut and arranged in bouquets to sell in the produce shop. I was surprised to find that helping to stock and run the produce shop was keenly satisfying to me. There was something that felt so right about knowing exactly where the food I was helping to sell and the food I was eating came from. Because I had picked it myself! In the future I hope I live in a place where I can have a garden to grow my own vegetables to supply my table.
It was here that I experienced to the greatest degree the weird twilight world of WWOOFing, if you will, the purgatory between being included as one of the family and so clearly not being one of the family. Vina and Gav have generous spirits and were adamant about me being involved in the daily in-and-outs of the family. I felt like I was treated more like a guest than a WWOOFer, which I found touching. But even as inclusive as they were, I still felt like I was hovering on the periphery of their family life, through no fault of theirs. I think it was an inevitable feeling when faced with a close-knit family. It was a strange experience though. It made me miss my family in many ways.
I think there is more that I could probably say about Penpont. Minus a broken toe and a bad cold, I was very happy there. But this is enough for now.
On Penpont grounds
Stratford-upon-avon. Including Shakespeare’s houses and grave.
York Minster, including a closeup of the strange monkey window